This is how John Gill put it, commenting on Rev. 17:12 (Gill was often incorrect in his understanding of prophetic things; but on this issue he put it very well): “Their rise was with the Papal beast, who rose not to his supreme power and dignity until the western emperor, which let and hindered, was removed out of the way; which was done by the barbarous nations, who set up these kingdoms, which made way for the lordly and tyrannical government of the pope of Rome; so that he and they rose up together: and this may be meant by the one hour: namely, that at one and the same hour or season he came to his supreme authority and grandeur, and they received their kingly power with him”.
But also, we can read it as meaning that “for just a short period of time” they received power as kings, by his permission! And he took that same power away from them as he pleased. The phrase “one hour” may refer to the very short period of time when those kings continued in their greatness and dignity. And this is because, although they were kings in name, yet because of their subjection to the pope of Rome, they did not have supreme power! He did, over them. And he could, and did, depose them from their positions whenever it suited him. The great city of the beast, the city on seven hills, reigns over the kings of the Roman earth, as verse 18 says; they were called kings, but they were servants, vassals, of the pope of Rome. He was the one wielding supreme power over them. As v.13 says, they gave their power and strength to him.
V.13: “These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.”
This is precisely what the ten kingdoms did throughout the centuries of Papal power that followed: with “one mind” during those centuries, they gave their authority (“power”) and their might (“strength”) to the Papal beast.
We are not to understand that this power and strength was always total, without interruptions or breaks. There were times, throughout the Papacy’s 1260 years of its greatest power, when this king or that one rebelled, etc.; but the words mean that as a general rule, this was the case. The western European nations that developed from those original ten kingdoms by and large gave their power and strength to the beast, having one mind to serve the popes of Rome. The Romish religion is what united them. And they gave the Papal beast power to exercise all religious authority in their kingdoms; to control all religious matters, and even to place their countries under interdict. In addition, they kingdoms lent their power to the beast, fighting for him, etc.
But note: these words do not say that these kings will unite together politically into one giant super-state! Yes, in the past they had “one mind” to serve the Papal beast, and this they did; but they retained their separate identities and they often warred with one another. The Romish religion united them religiously, as Roman Catholics, but politically they remained very separate.
How Do the “Ten Kings” “Make War with the Lamb”?
V.14 says: “These shall make war with the Lamb”. These ten kingdoms would make war with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. But how, when, where?
The Futurist theory claims that this occurs at Christ’s second coming. At that time (so the theory goes, at least by some), the countries of the European Union will turn their modern weapons on the Lord Christ and His angels as He descends form the heavens, and fight with Him.
But this is absurd. The leaders of the world do not believe in Him coming again anyway, so why would they even be ready for His return, to fight with Him? And how could they even be in a position to fight against Him? They would be terror-stricken, amazed, shocked, filled with awe, to see the Son of God descending with power on the last day! They would be in no position to train their firepower on Him! This theory seems to revolve around the idea that the Lord is going to return like some kind of alien starship, while being monitored on government systems worldwide! It sounds like some stupid Hollywood movie, but it is not the truth of Scripture.
What, then, do these words mean?
In Acts 9:3-5, when the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, He said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” and, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest”. Yet Paul had never personally persecuted the Lord Jesus when He ministered on earth. The Lord meant that as He is the Head of His Church, and the Church is His body (see Eph. 5), when Paul persecuted members of the true Church he was persecuting Christ the Head of the Church. What was done to His body was done to Him. In Matt. 25:40 the Lord said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” What is done to Christ’s brethren is done to Christ Himself!
When, therefore, it says the ten horns make war with the Lamb, it means they make war with the Lamb’s followers! They make war with the Church of Christ the Lamb. In waging war against Christ's Church, they were waging war against Christ Himself.
But when and where does this occur?